Painting with Pastel Paints

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Pastels are great for the person that is always on the go. One can paint for a few minutes or many hours and stop at the drop of a hat. There is no need to worry about paint drying on a brush. Working wet in wet has time constraints, as the artist must complete an area before it dries. Paint that dries out on the palette is wasted. With pastel, the artist is always ready to pick up where he left off or to move on to something else. However, snacking while working with pastels is a challenge. Blue lips and green cheeks are occupational hazards for the munching artist.

What Is Pastel?

Pastels are ground pigment fixed into stick form with a binder. They are very pure and luminous. Modern pastels are made with mainly non-toxic components, so there is little risk of problems with the ingredients coming in contact with the skin. If there are concerns, be sure to read the label for ingredients and warnings.

Oil pastel is another form of pastel. It is similar, but uses wax or oil as a binder. Working with oil pastel has a few differences, but for the purpose of this article, gum-based binder pastel is the focus.

There are several hardness levels available, and each will have different effects. The harder the pastel, the easier it is to have sharp edges and lines. This is good for crisp edges, but the beauty of pastel is the ability to blend and transition colors over each other.

Having a variety of pastels in the art box is a good idea for the student artist. Pastels are relatively inexpensive, and a wide assortment is not too costly.

What Supports Are Used?

Paper is the main support used for pastels. One can prepare other surfaces, but paper is the standard most artists typically use. The tooth of the paper is what allows the pastel dust to adhere to the paper. There is a variety of papers available, with different surfaces for a range of finishes. Watercolor paper, velour paper, pastel paper and panels are the basic categories of paper from which to choose.

Many artists elect to use tinted papers for their support. Beginning with a colored background saves a great deal of time, and gives an overall color theme to the piece. A student artist may wish to purchase an assortment of papers for experimentation. That way he can see for himself how the various papers work with the style of art he is creating.

To Fix Or Not To Fix, That Is The Question

Most commonly, fixative is used on a completed drawing to preserve it. Some artists use fixative between layers of work. This segregates the layers to prevent unwanted blending.

There are two schools of thought in using a fixative over the pastel. A fixative gives stability to the finished piece so the danger of the pastel dust flaking off is minimized. However, the chemicals in the fixative can alter the color and affect the luminosity of the work. For this reason, some artists are opposed to the use of fixative.

Regardless of how the artist feels about fixative, extreme care must be taken when dealing with this very sensitive medium.

Applying Pastels

There are a number of methods in applying pastel to the paper. An artist can draw with the sharp edge, use a cross-hatching motion or apply the side of the stick on the paper to cover a large area.

Pastels are made to build up color. Layering pastel develops a bold, vibrant hue, which is one of the prime features of pastel work. Since they are made up of pure pigments and very little filler, pastel achieves a depth of color and luminosity that is hard to surpass with any other medium.

Blending is a prime activity of the pastel artist. The student may use his fingers, Q-tips, paper stumps, pastel brushes, cloth or kneaded rubber erasers. Blending is a skill that will develop as the student progresses. Pastel can also be removed with a pastel shaper or a craft knife.

How Are Pastels Finished?

Since pastel is so delicate and easily damaged, completed work must be framed under glass. It must not touch the glass or static electricity can shift or blur the art. Therefore, it is common to put a mat around the piece. If the artist does not desire to mat the artwork, he needs to have stand-offs mounted into the frame to prevent the glass from touching the pastel.

Pastel Paint Brands

Some of the most popular Pastel Paints are manufactured by Art Spectrum, Caran D’ache, Daler Rowney, Diane Townsend, Faber Castell, Holbein, Mount Vision, Rembrandt, Schmincke, Sennelier, Terry Ludwig, and Winsor and Newton.

Pastels are a great way for art students of any age to explore the world of color and texture.

Costs can be relatively small, the equipment minimal and the mess factor negligible. The youngest budding Picasso to the eldest battle-scarred artistic veteran can profit from the ease and spontaneity of pastel. It is easily portable and quick to set up or put away.

It is an excellent choice for a new student looking for an entry into the world of art.

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